Netflix (NFLX 1.09%) co-CEO Ted Sarandos recently gave everyone a peek behind the curtain, showing the top 10 films and series by account views and run time at last month's Code Conference. He also said the company intends to be more transparent with viewer data in the future.
The data and Sarandos' interview revealed some notable insights into Netflix's content strategy, and highlighted just how popular some of its titles are.
Netflix's top film all-time by total viewing hours was 2018's Bird Box. The film racked up 282 million hours of viewing in just four weeks. With a two-hour run time, that's the equivalent of 141 million views. If that many people saw the film in theaters, it would've grossed over $1 billion in ticket sales. (And remember: Multiple people can watch a film at home at the same time.)
Extraction, The Kissing Booth 2, 6 Underground, and Spenser Confidential all had billion-dollar box office potential, too, according to Netflix's data. Of course, consumers are a lot more likely to watch a movie with zero marginal cost than one where they have to go to the theater and pay $10 for a ticket. Still, it shows just how popular Netflix's films can be.
There were only five billion-dollar box office films in 2018 and nine in 2019. The bulk of those films came from Disney (DIS 0.85%), which spends big to produce franchise films with predictable success. In other words, Netflix might be one of the most successful film studios in business today.
60 million TV viewers
Netflix's most popular television series consistently draw average audiences of 60 million viewers or more. Money Heist Part 4 brought in more than 90 million viewers per minute of run time in its first four weeks following release.
To be sure, any television event with a global audience of more than 60 million is a big deal, let alone an entire series averaging that size audience. The top U.S. broadcast TV series only capture audiences between 20 million and 30 million, when accounting for live audiences and those recording it.
Driving subscriber growth
What's most interesting about Netflix's most popular titles is the diversity of genres and languages. Where a company like Disney makes great animation and action films based on popular intellectual property, Netflix runs the gamut. It has drama, horror, action, comedy, and period pieces in French, Spanish, English -- everything.
And unlike Disney, Netflix isn't particularly reliant on franchises or extended universes. "Franchises are good, but what you want are hits," Sarandos said.
Hits drive subscriber growth because they're new and interesting. Disney, meanwhile, is facing a lull in its subscriber growth right now, as the content on Disney+ is fully understood. Series and films based in popular universes will not grow an audience that isn't already interested in those stories. That's why one of the most successful titles on Dsney+ last year was Hamilton.
That said, Netflix is planning a spinoff of Stranger Things.
Netflix is able to make hits because it's taken years to perfect the art of pushing titles with traction on the streaming service and getting them into the cultural zeitgeist. The home screen in the app helps to increase awareness, on top of more-traditional marketing efforts. And as more people talk about a show or film on Netflix, it increases the chances of someone new signing up for the service.
After a slow first half of 2021, Netflix's content pipeline is restocked and ready for the end of the year and 2022. Investors should expect a few of those to be hits, and a lot more subscribers.